(Un)Productivity

On Figuring Out Who You Are (and What Would Plato Do?)

Today, I spent an entertaining and enlightening 37 minutes and 22 seconds listening to a talk by Merlin Mann, titled “Makebelieve Help, Old Butchers, and Figuring Out Who You Are (For Now)“.
In it, Mann dwells lenghty on the well-known paradox, that whilst procrastinate-ish time spent on your Gameboy or surfing the web will probably be necessary for your creative work, you should not carry it to excess – because if you do, nothing important will get done, ever. He identifies a big problem for many people in just stopping to do spend their time on stuff like that and especially on productivity and self-help sites on the web that apparently want to help them. The reason for this is that this is not the way these sites work. They want you to spend time on their place, read their texts, click their affiliate links, spread their word, buy their products and, most importantly, they want you to return.

What would Plato do?

What would Plato do?

The main reason for the reader behaving like expected, Mann says, is NOT KNOWING WHO YOU ARE.
In consequence, you don´t know WHAT TO PAY YOUR ATTENTION TO, and WHAT YOUR OPTIONS ARE.

This seemed really helpful to me, so I wanted to share it with you.
Because the moment you knew who you are, you could probably distinguish pretty well between time spent researching and inspiring yourself for your creative work, and the deep and darkened trap of never-ending procrastination. You would know the difference between some well-written Productivity Entertainment and the self-pronounced Gurus that just want to keep you in the trap, sucking your blood, i.e. your money and your time, while leaving you alive so you can be a permanent victim to them. And you would not just know about these things and your options – you would also take the consequences and shut the noise off and get back to your personal projects the moment you consider it necessary.

Even though Mann will probably get into a series of fist fights with some of the undisclosed gurus, I think he really made a point with this talk. Seeing it helped me to remember an old trick of mine to getting back to focus on whatever I was working on, by simply asking me: “What would Plato do?”

Now, I never really got the definite answer on that one, but it oscillated around the following: Well, he would probably make out with some student of his, maybe even young Aristotle. But as I´m not gay and don´t even have students, this won´t be possible. So next he probably would take a walk around his academy philosophizing, or he would write on a text or read a really difficult book or something, but most definitely he would not see another Futurama episode or go to the supermarktet for a new pack of coffee. I mean, sure, even Plato sometimes would spend a minute or two on Twitter, but he would never ever follow thousands of people and get lost in the stream of words they produce.

When Plato went to Sicily he wouldn´t just do it to eat arancini and lie on the beach – he would do stuff and meet interesting people! (Maybe he would even get himself sold as a slave – anyway, he was liberated soon after and had a cool story to tell at home!)

Now, this is not about moving into a direction of selling myself to the highest bidder or writing lenghty fake dialogues mourning the loss of good old Socrates. The thing is, you can put many persons in the place of “Plato” – in fact, I only got up to really writing this piece for you after reading a great (German language) interview with Tilda Swinton this afternoon, where she explains that she is just doing the stuff she always wanted to and that she would have done it anyway, without paying too much attention to the high praise (and the Oscar) she got for her films. So I asked myself: What would Tilda do?
And even if Tilda does not write blog posts (or, does she?), Tilda does her thing – because she knows who she is! Just like Merlin Mann. Just like Plato. And just like all these other greek philosophers whose writings were good enough to be saved in every war and every library fire during more than 2000 years of violent European history, so they were conserved until our days!

Maybe this blog post will be lost after a server crash the day after tomorrow. No hard feelings there. But maybe it will be read at least by some of you before this happens, and you join me in the Secret Club of People Who Know Who They Are – even if it is only for today, for this moment. People who, therefore, know what to direct their attention to and what options they have. So, welcome to the Club! My name is Fabian Kruse, and I´m a friendly anarchistic writer, artist, and activist, and I thank you very much for your attention.

(Originally posted on the Black Sheep Project – Photo CC-BY ConsciousVision – Illustration: FA)

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Jeb November 7, 2009 at 6:36 am

I think about the likes of Plato from time to time, about life during a time such as his. Surely it’s just a case of wanting what we haven’t got…greener grass and all that. But it seems to me there was a lot more living going on back then. Real living. People engaged fully in life, even if there was a bit of toil involved. So yes, that’s a good question…”what would Plato do?”

But perhaps the better question, the real question, is, “what would Fabian do?” Or better yet, “What will Fabian do?”

Fabian November 7, 2009 at 2:59 pm

I think that every age has its own advantages and problems… but in the end, thinking about it is just a mindgame and probably inspiring in some way. The important thing is to make decisions and live consciously in THIS time – I think, “real living” and “engaging fully in life” is absolutely possible today, and if we work together, we may even get the grass greener again! :)
So yeah, you´re absolutely right about the question that matters: What will I do, what will WE do?

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